This Saturday at Saratoga, Tiz the Law will try to accomplish a rare feat: winning the Belmont Stakes and the Travers Stakes. Should he succeed, he’ll join a small, elite list. In the past 30 years, only five horses have managed to pull off the double. Here’s a look back at those fantastic five:
THUNDER GULCH, 1995
It had been a topsy-turvy year for Thunder Gulch going into the Travers. At the start of the year, he was considered the second-string among Wayne Lukas’s 3-year-olds, with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Timber Country considered his best. Thunder Gulch immediately asserted his status, with wins in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Florida Derby. His Kentucky derby stock dropped dramatically in his final prep, with a nondescript fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes.
Bettors jumped off his bandwagon en masse in Kentucky, sending him off at 24/1, with Timber Country the 3/1 favorite. However, Thunder Gulch found his best form that day, winning by 2 ¼ lengths. Timber Country was third that afternoon, but those two reversed positions in the Preakness.
With Timber Country unable to run in the Belmont due to injury, Thunder Gulch was the 3/2 favorite. He prompted the pace three-wide early on, then engaged in a thrilling stretch battle with early leader Star Standard to win by two lengths.
After winning the Swaps Stakes in California, Lukas sent him back to New York, for a try in the Travers. Rematched with Star Standard, along with Jim Dandy winner Composer and Haskell runner-up Pyramid Peak, Thunder Gulch was sent off as the 3-5 choice against six rivals.
Much like he did in the Belmont, he rated in mid-pack in the early going, battled with the leaders on the turn, then drew off to a strong, 4 ½-length win. He remains the last horse to date to win the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont, and the Travers.
LEMON DROP KID, 1999
Largely forgotten after showing promise as a 2-year-old, this Scotty Schulhofer trainee pulled off a 29/1 upset in the Belmont Stakes, denying Charismatic the Triple Crown. He prepped for the Travers with a second-place finish in the Jim Dandy Stakes.
Because of his fairly light resume going into the Travers, he was the 7/2 second choice going into the race. Menifee, coming off a Haskell win and runner-up finishes in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, was the 8/5 favorite in the field of eight.
Lemon Drop Kid rated three-wide off a slow pace early, set by eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Cat Thief and Belmont runner-up Vision and Verse. On the turn, Cat Thief gave way, and Lemon Drop Kid drew up to the throatlach of Vision and Verse as they entered the stretch. In a mirror image of the Belmont stretch run, Lemon Drop Kid got up in the last strides to win by ¾ of a length, with Vision and Verse holding second. To date, it’s the last time the 1-2 finishers of the Belmont also comprised the exacta in the Travers.
POINT GIVEN, 2001
Arguably the best horse Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has ever had in his barn, Point Given was sent off as the 9/5 favorite in the Kentucky Derby, the biggest favorite in that race in the past 25 years. However, he was too close to a fast pace, and ended up fifth. Undeterred, he bounced back with a strong Preakness victory, followed by an extremely impressive victory in the Belmont. He beat eight rivals by 12 ¼ lengths, covering the distance in 2:26.56.
After a workman-like win in the Haskell, he was sent to the Travers, to try and put the icing on the Horse of the Year cake. He was the 3-5 choice, making him the biggest Travers favorite since Easy Goer in 1989.
His many backers didn’t have to sweat too much. He moved three-wide on the final turn, and moved alongside the early leader, up-and-comer E Dubai, in the stretch. As they moved by the eighth pole, Point Given got clear of E Dubai, and drew off to win by 3 ½ emphatic lengths.
Unfortunately, he was retired due to injury a few days later. Nevertheless, his Preakness-Belmont-Haskell-Travers run was enough to earn him the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old male, as well as the Horse of the Year title. He remains the only horse to win all four races.
Going into the 2004 Travers, it had been 36 years since the first family of Saratoga, the Whitneys, had won their town’s biggest race. Harry Payne Whitney owned 1929 winner Beacon Hill, and his son C.V. Whitney won it with Fisherman in 1954 and Chompion in 1968. Now, C.V.’s wife, Marylou, looked to get her first Travers winner under her name, with Birdstone.
Birdstone was rather notorious going into the Travers. After breaking his maiden at Saratoga and winning the Champagne, he had fallen out of form in the run-up to the Triple Crown. He was a non-threatening eighth in the Kentucky Derby, and was dismissed as a 36/1 afterthought in the Belmont Stakes. That race was perceived as little more than a coronation for lovable Pennsylvanian Smarty Jones, who had won the Derby and Preakness in dominating fashion, and was 1-5 to win the Triple Crown.
However, Birdstone had other ideas. With a long-striding, mechanical rally from the back of the pack, he surged past Smarty Jones in the last sixteenth to win in a shocking upset. After that victory, he did not race again until the Travers, which was run under dramatic conditions.
In the minutes before the Travers, the skies over Saratoga darkened eerily. A cacophony of thunder and lightning played out in the background. A ferocious thunderstorm was making its way into the Saratoga area, forcing the cancellation of the race after the Travers, and causing post time for the Travers itself to be sped up. Without any lights on the track, the dark clouds overhead caused the Travers to be contested in near-darkness.
Whether they thought his Belmont was a fluke, or they were mad at him for denying Smatty Jones the Triple Crown, the betting public didn’t think much of Birdstone. He was the 9/2 fourth choice in the field of seven, with Haskell winner Lion Heart the 5/2 favorite. Lion Heart was through after three-quarters of a mile, while Birdstone moved boldly with a three-wide sweep on the final turn. Although fellow Nick Zito trainee The Cliff’s Edge gave him a brief scare late, Birdstone crossed the wire 2 ½ lengths in front, giving the Whitneys their fourth Travers win. Not long after they crossed the wire, the skies opened up, and the winner’s circle ceremony was conducted in driving rain.
SUMMER BIRD, 2009
Birdstone didn’t have to wait long for one of his sons to follow in his footsteps. A member of his sire’s first crop, Summer Bird burst on the scene with a 11/1 upset score in the Belmont. It was just the second career win for the Tim Ice-trained gelding, who was third in the Arkansas Derby and sixth in the Kentucky Derby. After a second-place finish in the Haskell, behind champion filly Rachel Alexandra, he was sent to the Travers.
Summer Bird caught a wet track in the Haskell, and he got another one for the Travers. Rain drenched Saratoga the day before the Travers and the day of, causing the track to become a sloppy mess. He went off as the 5/2 second favorite, with Quality Road sent away as the 3/2 favorite off a flashy Amsterdam win.
Despite a wide trip, Summer Bird proved much the best. Kent Desormeaux sent him three-wide on the turn, and got clear of his rivals turning into the stretch. Quality Road was asked for a response to keep up, but he fell flat, and Summer Bird crossed the wire 3 ½ lengths in front. With that win, Birdstone and Summer Bird became the first father-son team to win the Travers since Deputy Commander and Ten Most Wanted in 1997 and 2003, respectively.